The Rushton Manor Hotel is within easy walking distance of London’s Embankment.
The telephone number of this hotel is one digit different to mine, Rushton’s has a six at the end and mine a seven. It’s a popular tourist hotel and, not surprisingly, I often receive calls meant for them. I never complain about a wrong number. That would be foolish.
My own number is ex-directory, and I have no friends, so it’s true to say I never receive calls of my own.
The phone rings.
“Good morning, Rushton Manor,” I announce in my well trained Irish accent.
Her’s is a gentle, sensual sound and my heart rate spurts. I feel lucky.
“One moment, Madam. I’ll put you through.”
I muffle the phone to my chest and wait a moment before I answer in my native American tongue. “Good morning. Reservations. May I help you?”
“Do you have a room for this weekend? I would arrive on Friday evening.”
Her voice is quiet, her accent English. Already, I believe she’ll suit my purpose.
“Single or double?” I enquire
“One moment, Madam.” I hold the receiver close by the lifeless keyboard and click the keys at random.
“The room would be just for you?”
I smile and suppress my glee. It’s working so fine. I tighten the phone cable around my fist like it’s a cord of rope. It digs into my flesh, but I feel no pain.
“I have a single in the annexe.”
“Oh! Not in the hotel?”
“Sorry, Madam, it’s all we have.”
I interrupt before she can ring off. “We do a special rate.”
There’s silence her end.
“We’re no more than five minutes from the Embankment,” I add. “Less than five from Big Ben.”
“I don’t know,” she murmurs. “I don’t much care for an annexe.”
“Neither would I, Madam, but it’s only called an annexe. We have the same facilities as the Hotel, including a roof top restaurant and a full sized swimming pool in the basement. We’re situated in a pleasant close, quiet and secluded.” At least the last part is true.
I know I’m about to lose her and I make a ridiculous offer. “Its twenty five pounds a night ... including English breakfast.”
She’s doubtful and I wonder if I’ve pitched too low.
“A single is almost impossible to shift this close to the weekend,” I explain. “It’s why we’re able to offer such a good deal.”
“Well, I must admit I’ve not had any luck so far. Not this close to Central London.”
“I’m not surprised, Madam. You’ve let it a little late.”
The woman gives out a husky, sexy laugh. “Your offer is difficult to refuse.”
“May I put you down for a reservation?”
“Yes, go on. What can I lose?”
“Nothing,” I grin. “Perhaps I can take down your particulars.”
She provides her details and I tell her my address and house number.
“I’ve had a thought,” she adds. “I’ll use my room of course, but is it possible to use the facilities of the main hotel ... if I prefer?”
I inform her she’s welcome. It’s a fact that the two buildings are no more than a mile apart, but for all the benefit it will be for her, Rushtons could be a million miles away.
The estate agent who sold me the house, told me it was Georgian, although I didn’t care about its antiquity. The importance is its size, a massive four storey building which has all the external appearance of a suitable accommodation for visitors.
I’m in the largest room on the ground floor, surrounded by comfortable chairs which suggest a public lounge for the benefit of the guests. There are none. In the corner is a makeshift reception desk, except it isn’t!
I’ve stood behind my lace curtains since 4.00, patient like a spider waiting for a fly. I have no choice, Miss Fletcher doesn’t know the exact time of her arrival. I’m not so stupid as to put out a sign signifying ‘Rushton Manor Annexe, ‘ and yet I have to be prepared to meet her. When she arrives, I’ll be on the steps to explain the missing sign. In the past I’ve told them it’s away for repair and that has always satisfied them.
A nearly new Ka draws up outside and I step back two paces. I can’t be seen.
Miss Fletcher – I assume it’s her – is a pretty brunette and her innocent eyes widen as she gazes up at the building.